Before the scheduled Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, Oct. 17, four current members of the board who are up for reelection participated in a Candidate Reelection Forum.
Trustee Salvador Lopez, Secretary Kathleen Bruinsma, Vice Chairperson Kenyatta Brame, and Chairperson David Koetje, although all running unopposed, answered a series of questions, some more simple than others.
After an initial “why are you running for reelection”, the moderator, Frank Conner, Psychology Professor, department head and Faculty Association President, asked everyone for a response to a more complex question.
“To create context;” Connor asked, “we are living in a time of social upheaval, science is under attack, public and systemic acts of prejudice and discrimination are being exposed on a regular basis. A worldwide pandemic has killed millions of people and continues to disrupt our daily lives. The ability of our government to legislate for the common good is in question. What do you see as the role of GRCC in addressing some or all of these issues?”
Chairperson Koetje was the first to respond.
“Education is about wondering and asking why. It’s about, not so much what we think, but how we think.” Koetje said. “Education is about creating a culture of thoughtful people. So as a career educator I find myself using language like, I’m in the business of creating a critical mass of people who understand the importance of fixing what’s broken.”
Secretary Bruinsma had this to say: “Our role as a higher public education institution is truth. Encouraging our students and our faculty to seek the truth” Bruinsma said. Civil discourse, as an academic institution and an institution that is rural and urban and represents the wide range of opinions in this region. How can we model civil discourse?… We have to equip our students to take information in and decide whether or not it is based in fact.”
Trustee Lopez focused on making college accessible: “I want to hit on the part of the question that included public and systemic acts of prejudice and discrimination…” Lopez said. “We know that the pandemic has exacerbated these issues, and that they affect some folks more than others. Historically marginalized people, people from underrepresented backgrounds, or from low socioeconomic backgrounds… I believe GRCC has a responsibility with access to help close some of the disparity gaps.”
Vice Chairperson Brame weighed in with the following response: “I think about the schools I’ve gone to… and how they’ve all impacted me significantly,” Brame said. “When you look at those schools, they all had specific values that they thought were important and they tried to have their students leave with those values… Those values are significant… Diversity, excellence, accountability, those are the things that make us better citizens and make us challenge the problems you’ve described… If you come to this school and you see excellence from women, and different religions, people of different colors, all of a sudden that breaks down a barrier.”
The forum ended without additional questions from the gallery.
The Board meeting began with a PowerPoint presentation of GRCC’s recent independent financial audit. The most significant difference from last year comes from a pension readjustment, and the auditors from Plante Moran made it known that GRCC did very well at managing the third year of the pandemic, financially speaking.
The Board then moved on to accepting new Michigan jobs training programs. The programs consist of training for 272 new positions at Padnos, and approximately 139 new positions at Request Food. Both programs passed through unanimously.
GRCC’s Vice President for Finance and Administration Lisa Freiburger gave a brief financial timeline, and mentioned a possible mid-year budget adjustment in February as well as a tuition recommendation in March.
Chairperson Koetje went on to give an update on the ongoing search for GRCC’s next president.
“We have three finalists for our next president…” Koetje said “So from 30 candidates down to three, our selection committee, an incredibly diverse group of 28 community college leaders undertook a very intense selection process that went from 30 down to seven semi-finalists. They were brought in for 90-minute interviews. These three candidates separated themselves from the others.”
Koetje went on to invite the GRCC community to the public interviews held throughout the next week, and made it known they expect to make their decision by their meeting in November.
The next meeting of the board isn’t until November 21, but they will be in session the next two days as they start the interview process.